At 96, Rochester Hills resident enters his fourth decade of golf

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published July 14, 2017

ROCHESTER HILLS — Hole No. 1 at Hampton Golf Club is a short par 3.

With a straightforward layout, from the furthest tee it plays roughly 115 yards, offering a large green tucked between a pair of sand traps.

Most golfers will use a low iron, with more experienced players opting for a wedge to attack the pin.

Jim Jannetta is a very seasoned golfer, but he chooses a different club. Playing from his customary red tee box — only 91 yards away — the Rochester Hills resident swings away with a driver.

On a mild, late June afternoon, Jannetta sends five shots in the air, with three finding the green and two others rolling past into the rough.

“I’ll probably go and play my first shot; that was a doozy,” Jannetta says, opting to putt a ball that sits in the middle of the green. “I like to see how close I can get. Sometimes you hit one and the ball just keeps on rolling, and then it just disappears!”

Jannetta is referring to a hole-in-one. While the lucky happening is elusive for most, Jannetta owns three in his career. During his round at the Rochester Hills course, he says over and over again how much he loves the game, calling it by far his favorite sport.

Many have said that golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and Jannetta personifies this. At 96 years old, he visits Hampton two to three times a week. Sometimes he plays a full nine, other times he only plays a few holes, and often he simply visits the putting green to practice his favorite aspect of the game.

“I love to putt,” Jannetta remarks, narrowly missing a 15-footer for a birdie. “People think it’s easy, but you have to line it up and have the right speed.”

Around Hampton, Jannetta is known for his putting prowess.

“I hear from the other players that he makes every single putt he looks at,” says Baird Wohlfeil, who has served as the general manager of Hampton for 29 years. “He knows all of our greens very well, but he loves our practice green. He likes to visit and be out there for 20 or so minutes and then come in and chat in the clubhouse.”

After his par on No. 1, Jannetta gets back in his cart to drive to the next hole. By his side is his wife of 46 years, Ann. Also a golfer, she records a bogey but blames it on having to use her husband’s clubs.

“I wish I had brought my own clubs, then it’d be even,” Ann Jannetta laments.

She bought her husband his first set of clubs. Both on their second marriage, the couple moved to an apartment bordering Hampton in 1976.

Jim Jannetta, 55 years old at the time, loved hunting and fishing but found there were not plentiful options to do so in the area. With a golf course literally in the backyard, his new wife purchased him a set of clubs for Christmas.

After going out for the first round of his life, Jim Jannetta returned to his wife with some good news and some bad news.

“I told her that I loved golf,” Jannetta recalls. “But now I need nicer clubs.”

Four decades later, the two still golf together often. Along with three other couples, they embark on a “King and Queen” day each week. The couple that gets to host the day rotates, choosing a local course and restaurant to visit, followed by a game of cards, wine, dessert and coffee at the host’s home.

A full 18 is played, with places like The Myth, Pontiac Country Club, Sylvan Glen and Sanctuary Lake being in the rotation.

“Golf is something we can do together, and it makes for a great day,” Ann Jannetta says. “Jim and I love to go out and play, and it shows that we get along well. We still love each other.”

Jim Jannetta served as a starter at The Myth for more than a decade, back when it was known as Beaver Creek. That gig only deepened his love for the game, aside from the occasional troublemakers.

“One time, I had to chase down some drunk golfers late at night,” he remembers. “They were just sitting down there sipping beer after everyone had left, and I wanted to go home. So I told them, ‘I’m going to lock your car behind the gate,’ and boy did they move, and I chased them away.”

Jannetta worked that job after a long career in construction. After returning home from World War II — where he served in the Army, stationed in France and Germany — he began building homes. Ann Jannetta made a career selling houses, and that is how the two met.

She is proud to tell her age of 87, and is even prouder of her golf swing, especially the way she can chip. On hole No. 2, she beats Jim by one stroke, recording a bogey to his double. Despite losing the hole, her husband is content with the day and returns to the clubhouse to sit outside and chat with Wohlfeil and Ann.

“He’s still incredibly sharp, and it’s unbelievable to see how he plays,” Wohlfeil says. “He’s just such a good guy, and you’d never expect his play at that age. He still makes great contact.”

Set to turn 97 in November, Jim Jannetta admits that he is a bit slower than when he was the quarterback at Detroit Pershing in 1940. After an hour with Wohlfeil and other Hampton regulars, he walks out to his car, proudly showing that he still drives on his own.

The couple then heads back to their condo, located within walking distance of Hampton’s third green.

“I’ll probably be back tomorrow or the next day,” he says. “I want to work on my putting.”